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Cornelius News

Ellison Bowman: Pastor first and foremost

By Dave Yochum. The Rev. Ellison L. Bowman’s job is made in heaven: Pastor of  the 225-member Torrence Chapel AME Zion Church. Indeed, the word pastor means the world to him.

“A pastor is one who is compared to a shepherd, and ministers to his flock’s needs. The pastor is there when someone is going through a difficult transition as well as to celebrate their lives. He is there to be a spiritual shoulder and for them to lean on,” Bowman says.

Bowman knows pastoring. He was the pastor at Union Bethel AME Zion from 1990 until 2004. Torrence Chapel is Union Bethel’s mother church. Both are mainstays in the life of black Cornelius.

Bowman, who is 66 years old, was one of the panel members at an “open dialogue” on race relations in Lake Norman at Union Bethel last year. Other panelists included the mayor, the police chief and the Rev. David Judge from First Baptist Church.

This came in the wake of the shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer, himself an African-American. Charlotte was the center of national attention as violent protests marred a city that buffed its reputation on the world stage. A year later, racial violence erupted in Charlottesville, Va.

It can happen again. Charlotte ranks dead last among the nation’s 50 largest cities in upward mobility for children. Harvard economist Raj Chetty says a child raised in the bottom fifth income level in Charlotte has a 4 percent chance of rising to the top fifth.

Bowman, who is addressed as Ellison or Pastor, grew up in segregated schools in rural Marshville in Union County in the 1960s. Peaceful protests—and riots—were part of the national scene from Los Angeles, to Newark, N.J.

Peacemakers stood out, then as now. Naturally, Bowman’s favorite Bible verse is from Matthew, Chapter 5, Verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

The passage is not about pacifism, but about actively bringing conflict to an end. The panel discussion Nov. 3 is a step in the right direction, and Bowman will be right there. He hopes he can be a force for positive change.

“Early in life I knew that God had a special calling on my life…something I didn’t want to go into initially, but it was something I knew I was called for…a special purpose.”

The son of a telephone installer, Bowman grew up with six brothers and sisters and played second base in high school. Dad was head deacon at their church in Marshville.

Young Bowman was drafted fresh out of school in 1970 and went to Vietnam and flew on an Army assault helicopter. Not that he was counting, but he was in Vietnam eight months and 28 days. “For a 19-year-old it was frightening,” he said.

Bowman made it out of southeast Asia alive and went to work for Duke Power as a lineman in 1972, along the way attending Biscayne Southern College at night. He worked his way up to marketing representative at Duke.

Bowman didn’t go into the ministry until he was 31 at which time he entered East Coast Bible College and Carolina Univerity of Theology earning a degree in Bible Studies. “I had a degree in business but I always had an interest in social work…I can see how the two intertwined…you have to have a calling from God and a love of people to be a pastor,” says Bowman, who also preaches at revivals all around Charlotte.

His first church was Henry’s Chapel, AME Zion in Belmont in 1983; his third Union Bethel  on Catawba Avenue in the Smithville Community. He was there from 1990 to 2004, becoming part of the fabric of the black community here.

Black churches have played an important role in the African American community since slavery. In fact, they were their first organizations, safe havens, places for community and worship.

Pastors in black churches are influential. As the spiritual leader of a venerable 147-year-old Cornelius institution, Bowman is no exception.

Torrence Chapel is the spiritual home of generations of Cornelius families, ranging from the Potts family to the Knox family, which includes Nannie Potts, the first African-American mayor and first female mayor of Cornelius. Husband Gerald Potts is chairman of the church board of trustees.

Bowman’s wife Linda is the North Charlotte District missionary president.

Bowman is paying careful attention to the next generation as well.

Mentoring ministries for teenagers are “the key to keeping them on the right track with what’s going on around them and in the world.”

“You have to keep at what’s important…and that’s God’s word, but at the same time, you have to have a holistic approach…for a church to continue to grow you have to implement ministries that are family-oriented, you have to organize ministries that will keep the interest of your teenagers and your young adults,” Bowman says.

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